Two things stand out about Alan Mak, the 31-year-old MP for Havant who was elected to Parliament in the 2015 General Election.
One is that he is a proud Yorkshireman and the other is that his childhood experiences living above and working in his parents shop have had a profound influence on his political beliefs.
Business Insider met up with Mak for a chat over tea and crumpets about his passions for education and business, and his life as a new MP.
Mak’s passion for education stems from his own experience winning an assisted place scholarship to a private school. The Assisted Place Scheme was set up by Margret Thatcher to subsidise the cost of going to private fee-paying schools for talented children from lower income families. Tony Blair believed the scheme to be elitist and scrapped it. Mak says that winning the scholarship “transformed” his life and encouraged him to become a Conservative.
“Education is my big political passion passion, I am the son of immigrant shop keepers, quite a disadvantaged background, but through the power of good state education and later through an assisted place scholarship which Margaret Thatcher introduced, I got to have a fantastic education which transformed my life.”
Lots of politicians talk about having passions for things, but Mak makes taking practical to steps to pursue his passions sound like a fact of life.
“When I came to London as a new graduate, I started working really hard in the city, but I was really passionate about doing something to help people more disadvantaged than myself. I had a primary school literally five minutes walk from my house, I just knocked on the door and said can I be involved, can I be a reading partner, can I help your breakfast club. And they said yes and obviously I became a governor and stayed with them for six year and it was a great experience,” he said.
Just turning up to things and asking to help seems to be a common theme with Mak.
One Young World
Back in 2010 he saw an advert near his work for a Summit being held by One Young World, an organisation that aims to inspire young people to create a positive change in their communities. Mak turned up to the summit, enjoyed it, became a member of the advisoree board and is now one of their ambassadors.
He says he liked One Young World because is encourages action: young people are encouraged to start a charity project, build a business or stand for election. Mak was still in his 20s when the the organisations co-founder Kate Robertson took him to meetings with sponsors. “They always wanted to have a senior person like her, but also an emerging leader like myself to really show them what one young world is about,” Mak says.
His association with One Young World also gave Make some exposure in the media spotlight, something to which he is clearly not adverse. “I was in Vanity Fair, profiled in a number of other business magazines like Management Today,” he told Business Insider.
The Big Society, the Conservative Government’s somewhat neglected flagship policy from 2010 to empower individuals and communities to take a bigger role in society has dropped out of vogue, but Mak confesses to being a “big fan.”
“I was a big fan of the big society and magic breakfast, the charity that I was proud to be a trustee of having actually won a big society award from the Prime Minister.” The magic breakfast charity sets up breakfast clubs to feed hungry children without using taxpayers money. “I also got to carry the Olympic torch as a result of my work,” Mak adds.
He is evangelistic about his philosophy that people can commit to doing good in the community, no matter what their career path is, and wants a new generation of young people to follow in his footsteps.
“As a millennial I’m in a very fortunate position to be able to both combine enjoyment of professional work with also a commitment to doing good in the community. I think that they are no longer mutually exclusive.”
At the age of only 31 and with a postgraduate degree at Cambridge and six years at a top city law firm under his belt, Mak has somehow also managed to squeeze in a career as a tech entrepreneur. He started a consultancy that aimed to help small businesses raise money and was an Angel Investor in the online retail site StreetHub and electronic receipt company Paperless Receipts. Mak says his drive for business started at a young age.
“My business career starts at the age of nine or ten, helping in my parent’s high street shop up in Yorkshire. My parents ran a high street shop for over twenty years. We actually lived above the shop, so we had a short commute. It meant my parents would work all the time, because their work was just downstairs. It taught me some good values about hard work, about being able to relate to all sorts of different people who came into the shop…I’m one of the key cheerleaders for business, small business in particular, in Parliament” Mak says.
Being a new MP
To observers its clear that Mak hasn’t been shy about getting stuck into life as an MP as he regualrly turns out an He is also the first ever “British Chinese” MP. Mak says that he’s received nothing but support from MPs across the political spectrum who tell him his election has been positive for Parliament and the Country. “The Prime Minister mentioned me in his first speech of this parliament,” Mak adds.
“I think some people will consider me that. Whilst I may not have chosen that role, it’s one I’ve assumed and am very happy to carry it out,” he says after clarifying that his constituents are his first priority.
Mak may be painting a rosy picture of his short time in Parliament, but the truth is he has been on the receiving end much harsher criticism than many of the new intake. Business Insider asked him whether he was affected by accusations made by a political blog that he fabricated quotes on his CV and overstated his business success to he constituents.
“I wasn’t affected by it,” he says. “I think that when someone new and different appears on the scene, then the left wing often like to think they own some of the BME votes and here was someone on the right who was confounding all their expectations. And I think that bred some resentment.”
With the tea and crumpets finished, Mak needed to dash off to show a group of school children from his constituency around Parliament. “I love showing them around,” he says as he leaves. “It still gives me a thrill to be here.”
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